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My Eric

by Heather Cunningham 9 months ago in relationships
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Fantasies and Flukes

I’ve accumulated an expansive collection of theatre friends throughout my time on earth thus far. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that theatre friends are a specific breed. They’re too dramatic for “normal” friends, and too “eccentric” for the world of Instagram. They are the source of many migraines, but the solution to life’s boredom. I keep them close because they wear the same lens as me. To us, the world is rich with possibilities. Life is a stage and we’re here to shine, belly-laugh, weep, and rage. We’re romantic, idealistic, naïve, and sometimes egotistical. We crave drama. Fire. Meaning…but we don’t always get it. We feel as if the world is against us, which only increases the vibration of our connection.

Cristina is a theatre friend, a flaming stereotype of what I’m describing. She lives according to the fire in her heart, always has and always will. She’s constantly at the mercy of her credit card debt, but when she looks in the mirror, she sees celebrity. She has big hair, and even bigger aspirations. She demands the attention of any room she inhabits, and leaves a flurry of comments wherever she goes. She’s a siren, a born flirt, a star with one major deficiency: she simply can’t charm reality. Most of the time she can’t even see reality. To Cristina, the world is a mass web of potentials. And if others don’t see it the same way, that’s their problem.

Immediately following high school, Cristina packed up her wardrobe, her jewelry, and whatever money she had, and she took off to New York City. In a matter of days, she got an apartment at the center of Times Square, a studio with three random roommates. To afford her new lifestyle, she got a job at Starbucks. It wasn’t long before she fell in love with her new role as a Brooklyn barista, making lattes for her favorite Broadway stars. She took the train to work every day, a spectacle in crimson lipstick and patent leather Docs. And although she wasn’t going on auditions, Cristina was thriving. That’s when she met Eric.

Eric was a Starbucks regular so I heard about him regularly. He was tall and a little bit older, a brunette with fine lines and a soft smile. He was great at making eye-contact, and Cristina was a seasoned gaze-melter. Every day for the next six months, my high school friend group would receive Eric-texts in our group chat…

August: “I caught him staring at me while he was waiting in line today. I swear he couldn’t stop looking at me!”

September: “Today, I gave him a free drink and he said, ‘thanks, Cristina.’ Can you believe that?!? He knows my name!!”

October: “Oh my god you guys, we just had our first real conversation. He told me he works down the street. I think I need to give him my number soon.”

November: “YOU GUYS I FOUND HIS INSTAGRAM AND HE POSTED A PICTURE OF MY LATTE”

December: “What should I do? I’m telling you there’s an energy between us. I’m not making this up. I feel like I just need to grow some balls and make a move already!”

Everyone in our group chat agreed. She needed to grow some balls and make a move already. After six months of convincing us of their chemistry, we were all pretty sick of hearing about Eric. Plus, we were perplexed. Cristina was the most confident person we knew, and yet, she couldn’t write her number on a damn to-go cup?

It was nearing the end of 2013, and our friend group was geographically divided. Half of us joined Cristina in New York while the rest of us attended various Universities in Florida. Carly, Scot, and Maia were the new-New Yorkers. They would visit Cristina occasionally, popping into her Starbucks whenever they found themselves in Brooklyn. But much to Cristina’s dismay, this never occurred when Eric needed a coffee fix. To all of us, Eric existed in our imaginations, in that nebulous realm of possibilities. To Cristina, he was the realest thing she’s felt in years.

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For me, going home for the Holidays was less about visiting family and more about retrieving a lost part of myself. My high school friends had that effect on me, a dissolving agent that melted my stress until nothing remained but a wick of my inner-child. Mostly, I was looking forward to spending time with Scot and Cristina. The three of us were a sitcom without the phoniness, and we had a semester’s worth of catching up to do. Scot had spent the majority of his high school years hiding his sexuality like a poorly placed pimple. But now that he was attending NYU, he was flourishing, clubbing with strangers, hooking up with random guys and getting familiar with Tinder. I couldn’t wait to hear about his escapades as a newly liberated man.

Our reunion took place just a few days before Christmas, the three of us settled into Scot’s childhood living room like a choreographed dance. Scot sat on the floor while Cristina and I sank into ivory cushions. We knew where to sit. We understood our blocking. We had rehearsed this scene before.

We spoke in hushed tones because Scot’s mom had just said goodnight. It was after 11, and the humming of the air conditioning underscored our whispers. We were giggly, sober and whole. That’s when Scot’s eyes lit up like the decorative lights surrounding us.

“Oh my god did I ever tell you guys about the guy I hooked up with right before coming here?!”

“What? No, I don’t think so…” Cristina answered, half listening while she scrolled through her phone.

“Yeah, what guy?” I added.

“Oh my god, I really didn’t tell you? His name was Eric.”

“Ha! My Eric?” Cristina laughed.

“Right, that’s funny,” Scot retorted. “He does live in Brooklyn.”

“Another Eric in Brooklyn! Okay so tell us about it,” Cristina put her phone down.

“Oh my god…” he smirked. “It was just a hookup but it was honestly so romantic, and he was so so sweet.” Scot adjusted his position so he was now sitting on his ankles, tall and alert. “Okay so we had been talking on Tinder and we discovered we had a lot in common. He loves Nicki Minaj and Final Fantasy. He’s a fire sign…but also, he’s a little bit older.”

“How much older?” I asked.

“Thirty-three.”

Cristina gasped. “My Eric looks about that age!”

“OMG stop!” Scot giggled. “So, finally, he invites me to his apartment and it’s really nice and I was so nervous, like I’ve never done this before, you know? But he was sooo sweet and made me feel comfortable right away.”

“Yeah, I would’ve been freaking out,” I admitted.

“Right. I totally was. But like I said, he was sweet and we had been talking for a while and it was all fine. So anyway, first, we sat on his floor and listened to The Pinkprint.”

“Of course,” I muttered.

“And then we just started making out and then we started doing other stuff…maybe I should spare you the details,” he paused.

“Wait, yeah I wanna see a picture of him. This is scandalous, Scot! An apartment hookup?!” Cristina quipped.

“Okay hold on, let me find a picture…he was so cute, I’m wondering if I should see him again,” his smirk became a smile as he scrolled through his phone with speed. “Okay, here he is. He honestly looks better in person but…” he held up his phone so we could all see.

“Oh, he’s cu—“ I started, but before I could finish my sentence, Cristina interrupted me.

“That’s MY Eric!!!” she shouted. We all stared at each other as our pupils blew up. “That’s MY ERIC!” She continued.

“NO!” Scot replied.

“YES!” Cristina cried. The muscles in her face started to vibrate, ever so slightly at first, then all at once like a convulsion. She slapped her face with her palms as tears trickled over them. Then, in unison, we all looked at each other, mouths wide, eyes knowing. We could no longer contain ourselves, bursting through the tension like a balloon, we laughed. We laughed like we had never laughed before. We laughed and laughed and laughed until our whole bodies ached.

“IT’S THE SAME ERIC!” Cristina cried through her hyperventilation.

“Of all the 8 million people who live in New York City! Are you fucking kidding me?!” Scot exclaimed.

“I can’t believe this,” I reacted.

“Cristina, I’m really sorry to say this but…my tongue was in his asshole.”

“STOPPPP!!!” We screamed. We couldn’t breathe. We couldn’t speak. We couldn’t stop the tears from gushing.

After that, Cristina stopped fantasizing…well, she stopped fantasizing about her customers at least. Over time, she grew bolder. She developed a stronger relationship with reality and married a new coworker who adores her. Scot saw Eric one more time and he made sure to display a picture of Cristina on his laptop while listening to "Only." “Oh, I know her!” Eric admitted. “That’s the barista at the DUMBO Starbucks.”

Scot never disclosed Cristina’s infatuation, but I’ve shared this story with anyone who would listen. I told my mom, my college friends, and my whole extended family. It’s been almost nine years since that night—our real-life comedy of errors. And in those nine years, I’ve never laughed with as much visceral force as I did for that hour on Scot’s couch. It was a perfect moment, full of fire, drama, and meaning.

Ultimately, Cristina didn’t care that the soulmate she created in her head for half a year revealed himself as her best friend’s gay hookup. We all had a story now, a moment that bonded us in sweet laughter amid harsh irony. We tend to think Cristina is naïve, that her head is so far above the clouds, she can't see the ground through all the fog. Maybe there's some truth to that, but if there is a lesson to be learned here, it's not that Cristina should come down to earth. It's that we should all realize how possible the impossible is. Maybe reality is a massive web of potentials, nothing but a stage for life's drama and magic. Regardless, I'm sure thankful for these experiences, where life reflects theatre and theatre pales in comparison to life.

relationships

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Heather Cunningham

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